In December, it will be 50 years — half a century — since Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft first captured the hearts of the country with The Graduate, and Mike Nichols' coming-of-age film has been relevant ever since. Also still relevant is the collegiate location in which it took place: Berkeley, California (to be fair, it was also partially filmed in Los Angeles). Berkeley and the East Bay today are hopping, and in honor of the classic film, it’s well worth a visit, even without a kid to bug at college.
Speaking of which, UC Berkeley’s campus is ripe with movie attractions that lend themselves to a self-guided tour — think the Victorian House, which served as Hoffman’s character Ben Braddock’s boarding house in the film, and Moe’s Books, where Ben stalked Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) from a coffee shop across the street — but on Saturday, Nov. 11, a past president of the Berkeley Historical Society leads "The Story of the Graduate Movie" walking tour, around local sites and film backdrops near Telegraph Avenue. Expect the tour to include recognizable spots like Sproul Plaza, where Elaine walks as Ben watches her, and the Theta Delta Chi Fraternity house. Out of walking distance is the Oakland Bay Bridge, which Ben crosses in a double-decker bus in the movie, and the San Francisco Zoo’s Monkey House, but both are doable for film buffs on their own. (It’s worth noting that the famous church is not actually in Berkeley; that scene was filmed at United Methodist Church in La Verne, near L.A.)
For a newer way of looking at the college town, book a room at the new Graduate Berkeley — no relation to the film (the well-curated and -crafted hotel collection with university-centric locations in Athens, Georgia; Charlottesville, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; and Tempe, Arizona, among others, all have the Graduate name), it’s simply a coincidence that happens to really work in Berkeley in particular. The hotel is down the street from where a shot was filmed of Durant Avenue circa 1967, and what used to be the Hotel Durant is now a 144-room boutique property that pays homage to UC Berkeley’s history and football team the Golden Bears, which are honored at Henry’s, the revitalized vintage restaurant and bar that has long been popular on game days. Decor throughout the property ranges from residential to eccentric to preppy, and includes sketches by Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head and political cartoons by Rube Goldberg (both are Berkeley alums). Keycards are made to look like the vintage college IDs of the likes of Gregory Peck.
Though much of Berkeley, like the Graduate hotel, ties back to the university, there are plenty of places to spend time off-campus, such as the recently opened Aftel Archive of Curious Scents, a museum dedicated to the experience of fragrance. The visual arts are on display at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which features more than 450 film programs every year, and gorgeous environs are front and center at the wilderness refuge Tilden Park, which is home to hiking, biking and horseback riding through trails and botanical gardens.
While Berkeley’s culinary scene now includes newbies like Sweetgreen and Blue Bottle Coffee, it heavily references the glory days. Chez Panisse is a must-dine spot when in town. Opened in 1971 by chef Alice Waters, it was at the origins of organic, locally grown, farm-to-table dining that we now refer to as "Californian cuisine." The dinner restaurant offers hyper-seasonal fixed menus six nights a week, and the upstairs Cafe at Chez Panisse (circa 1980) is available for more casual lunches and dinners, still with a daily market inspiration. Another vintage option: The Cheese Board Collective, which opened as a small cheese store 50 years ago and continues to offer the community hundreds of cheeses, fresh baked breads and pastries daily. There’s also a pizzeria down the street with rotating pies and lines out the door. Isn’t that what college is all about?